Surveying the Common-Core Chatter: How Will the Standards Fare in 2015?

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 08, 2015 3 min read
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If you’re closely watching how the Common Core State Standards fare in states this year, there’s been plenty of coverage and commentary about the standards for you to enjoy at the start of 2015. Discussions about the fate of the English/language arts and math standards have in some cases begun to resemble those around the stock market: Was last year’s turbulence around the common core a small market correction that will leave its long-term trajectory largely unharmed? Or was last year’s controversy over the standards merely the first warning sign of a coming bear market and a significant “sell-off” among states?

Here’s are some pieces and other news nuggets about the standards’ fate, as most states prepare for their first administration of common-core-aligned tests this coming spring:

• If you’re a pessimist regarding the common core’s ability to withstand present-day political forces, Andy Smarick of Bellwether Education Partners is in your corner, who says 2015 will likely be “brutal” for the standards.

Smarick says that Pollyannas about the standards are ignoring the increased control Republicans will exercise over statehouses this year after big election night wins last November. He argues that this new power will lead directly to more efforts to repeal the standards in 2015. (All three state-level repeals of the standards in 2014 were driven by GOP legislators and signed by GOP governors.)

Smarick also argues that the upcoming assessments could prove to be a boone for conservatives looking for new developments to push their repeal agenda. And he repeatedly slams liberals and other common-core defenders for being contemptuous or otherwise ignorant about the nature of the right-wing opposition to the common core: “All of this inflames, not enervates, the conservative opposition.”

• However, if you’re an optimist who thinks 2014 was the year anti-common-core stock peaked, Carmel Martin at the Center for American Progress is waiting to give you a high-five. Speaking to NPR, Martin said that “most legislators are getting tired of the issue,” and added, “When teachers have a significant voice and opportunities for input on implementation, we are likely to see success.”

During a panel I moderated last month at the Education Writers Association about common-core politics, Martin expanded on these sentiments: “There’s a lot of political opportunism with respect to common core, and I think that will stabilize the longer people [work] with the standards.” (Listen to full audio of that EWA event below.)

• Smarick’s Bellwether colleague, Andrew Rotherham, came down closer to Martin’s viewpoint than Smaricks, saying that expectations about a dramatic cage match over the standards this year are probably off-target.

“Behind the scenes Republican governors are nervous about the polities but not enthusiastic about ditching the policy,” Rotherham wrote. “At this point Common Core critics might be better served by focusing on specific issues within the standards they want changed because as a framework the standards seem to be digging in.”

Rotherham does say that observers should expect “some action” regarding the common-core tests in 2015. As a benchmark for how the common-core testing landscape looked at this year begins, see the map below I and my colleague Catherine Gewertz put together for Education Week:

Also check out Catherine’s story from last May about how the testing environment has fractured compared to where it was at the start of common-core implementation.

• In a Dec. 17 Washington Post piece, reporter Reid Wilson said that GOP-controlled legislatures are “preparing to launch a fresh assault” on the common core. He talked about the standards with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican who despite being a supporter of the standards was critical of how they’ve played out in states.

“If there’s ever been a program that’s been more poorly rolled out than Obamacare, which didn’t have a very illustrious beginning, it’s Common Core,” Herbert said.

Herbert added that top legislators and fellow governors have been trying to “sweep [common core] under the rug” as a political issue. But Noah Wall of FreedomWorks, a conservative group that opposes the standards, says legislators are eschewing straightforward “repeal” bills in favor of smaller-bore proposals that attack not only common core, but other K-12 policies that opponents have lumped in with the standards.

“Most of this legislation is being broken up ... There’s been a tremendous amount of movement that we’ve seen in a number of states,” Wall said.

• Finally, if you want to compare how anti-common-core legislation in 2015 proceeds compared to such efforts last year, be sure to bookmark my survey of opposition bills (and how they fared) in my 2014 bill-tracker.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.